We discovered Ridgway State Park a few years ago and have been back multiple times, each stay lasting over 7 days. This area is just too darn gorgeous to pack in a weekend. We both have the ability to work remotely from our RV making this park a no brainer for longer stays. There's even a cell tower in the middle of the Elk Ridge Loop so streaming and internet is screaming fast!
From Denver, it’s approximately 5 hours via US Hwy 285 S and US-50 W and it's well worth the day drive. You'll be glued to the window viewing the scenic beauty surrounding you. In spring, take this drive for photogenic grand views of the Uncompahgre Plateau to the west and snow-capped San Juan mountains to the south. You'll pass Blue Mesa Reservoir and go over Monarch Pass. In fall, if possible, is even more spectacular with Aspen trees shimmering gold throughout the area.
Some quick facts about Ridgway State Park besides it offers EVERYTHING a RV'er could want. The park has 283 campsites, picnic and playground areas, showers, a laundry area and extensive hiking and biking trails. Walking the dog around the campground is hardly a chore and you'll find yourself doing multiple loops versus a single daily walk with your pooches. We have a 32 ft Jayco trailer and there are plenty of pull through sites so whether you have a big rig or a popup, these sites fit all. There are electric only and full hookup sites in the three loops, Elk Ridge, Dakota Terrace (open year round) and Pa Co Chu Co Chu Puk. Say that fast if you can. This is the west so you can pronounce it like we do, "Paco". Each campsite has a paved parking pad, table, fire ring and grill.
If you have a tent, there are ten beautiful tent-only, walk-in campsites that overlook Ridgway Reservoir. They provide little carts to help with your camp move-in. These sites have amazing views and seeing the stars and moonlight reflecting in the water at night...well, I almost miss my tent. I said almost. Tents don't have toilets but there is a flush bathroom only yards away. The stars alone make that midnight trip worth it.
Now let's talk fishing and water sports!
Ridgway Reservoir is 5 miles long and surrounds the Elk Ridge and Dakota Terrace campgrounds. It is controlled by the Ridgway Dam on the Uncompahgre River, which runs north of Ridgway. The lake was first filled in 1990's for irrigation of the Uncompahgre Valley and to control flooding. It still does all that in addition to being an outdoor playground offering a wide variety of sports, on and off the water.
For fishing, the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk (or Cow Creek-aka Paco), is an outstanding fly fishing destination situated along the Uncompahgre River. Trophy-sized rainbows, browns, and cutthroats all can be pulled in here for hours of big fishing stories to be told. Makes for a very relaxing summer day too.
If you're not into fishing, Ridgway Reservoir offers Kayakers and Paddle Boarders on it’s silky smooth water. Just after the entrance, there a is big parking area for launching your craft of choice and a very nice sandy beach for swimming. Boaters, as a reminder, a pre-launch boat inspection for ANS is MANDATORY for all motorized vessels and trailered vessels.
Feel like a hike or bike ride? From short, easy day hikes to multi-day backpacking adventures, Ridgway State Park is the perfect base camp for exploring the San Juan mountains. There are miles of hikes and bike trails all around the park plus over 3 miles of concrete trails and 11 miles of natural surface trails within the park. For a favorite family bike ride, head towards the town of Ridgway to the Dennis Weaver's Memorial Park, an 80-acre public park dedicated to the memory of the famed actor and environmentalist. It's a fairly level easy path that straddles the Uncompahgre River. Birds and hawks and the sound of rushing water makes for a very relaxing bike ride. Check out All Trails for hiking and Ridgway Area Trails RAT trail system to find bike trails. Both these sources contain trails for all levels of experience and ages. Just remember the weather can change fast in Colorado so always be prepared before leaving the safely of your vehicle.
If car rides and drives are more your thing, there are also some great day trips from the park. Within 20 mins, you can be in Ouray, also known as Colorado's Switzerland because of the Matterhorn Peak found here and the quaint friendly town. While most people think of the Matterhorn Mountain Peak between Switzerland and Italy, or the Disney ride, the Matterhorn Peak is in our own Colorado backyard.
This little town has great outdoor restaurants like the Ouray Brewery. It serves up tasty local beers, stellar food and a rooftop bar that show off Ouray's unparalleled views. Don't like beer? Maybe a summer soak is more in line. Take a dip in Ouray's Hot Springs with the kiddo's or for more adventurous folks, there's a very scary four wheel drive road called Yankee Boy Basin to explore.
I highly recommend doing this with a jeep tour found in Ouray or if you're brave, feel free to use your 4 wheel vehicle. Just a warning, this road can make even the bravest person hide down in the back seat. Staying strong, it was just white knuckles for me and the views, WOW. Try this road in Autumn when the Aspen Trees are at their prime color.
Colorado wildflowers and fast flowing meadow streams from the San Juan Mountains snow runoff is an unforgettable sight. It's been a few years since we've done this road but the memory of that day still haunts me, in a (mostly) very good way.
Did I mention there is a national park just up the road from Ridgway State Park as well? Head north through Montrose on US-550 N and drive for 29 miles to the entrance of the park. Designated as a national park in 1999, the name came from the 1800 ft deep narrow openings and blackness of the valley due to the constant shadows casting against the canyon walls.
Plan to spend a few hours for the scenic drive and stops for photos at the rim overlooks. There is no bridge or road that connects each rim. Both rim drives have one access point from the highway, and dead-end within the park. The North Rim is quieter and more primitive while the South Rim is busier and holds the campground and visitor center. There are two campgrounds, one on each rim and are first come, first serve. Electrical hook ups are in Loop B. Each Rim does have picnic areas and restrooms. Please be prepared and bring your own water. Water is hauled in and only available during the summer season
The most photographed point and wall, Cedar Point and The Painted Wall are found on the South Rim. Here you will see veins of pink pegmatite running horizontally throughout, giving a random artist paint brush look. It's a stunning view. You can just barely see the Gunnison River at the bottom. That tiny looking river is the force that cut these incredible canyons. If you venture below into the inner canyon wilderness, you will need a permit for climbing, hiking and kayaking. If you are staying overnight, camping is available at East Portal.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is also certified as an International Dark Sky Park. The park is open 24/7 so there is nightlong access for outstanding stargazing. They also lead star tours on certain nights.
There are a few areas I didn't touch on around Ridgway State Park and that's why this area of Colorado deserves more than a long weekend. Each time we go, we find a new area to play in. Autumn is especially gorgeous with colors, perfect weather and campsite openings!
Happy Trails everyone!